Thursday, December 30, 2010

steve loves moira (true)

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary.
Because we got married at this rather silly time of year, I think Moira+I have each “forgotten” our anniversary perhaps once over the years… but not today. We don’t very often buy each other presents to mark the occasion but, today, Moira presented me with a truly beautiful set of Rob Ryan’s plates (entitled “Four Trees, Four Seasons”). He was born in Cyrus, but now lives and works in London and makes wonderful, intricate papercuts (cut by hand).
Photo: hopefully(?), if you double-click on the image you might just be able to make out the words (warning: they might make you cry).


Alan, Gareth, Eilidh, Moira+I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Sophia Coppola’s “Somewhere” film. Stephen Dorff plays a pampered film actor, surrounded by beautiful, “willing” women. His troubled ex-wife leaves their 11-year-old daughter for him to look after for a couple of weeks (before the daughter’s shipped off to a summer camp) while mother has time for herself. Having his daughter with him seems only to underline the film actor’s directionless, privileged lifestyle – with Dorff frequently having to shield his daughter from embarrassing situations, mainly involving young women keen to “impress” him.
Perhaps this was the essential message of the film – it took the presence of his daughter for him to realise, despite all the fame and the money, just how mundane, lonely and discomforting his life had become…. or maybe I’m just trying too hard to justify why the film was made at all?
Not a patch on "Lost in Translation".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

contemplating retirement

For me, the turn of the year has always been a time for reflection. This year has taken on rather more significance than usual as I’ll be retiring in the summer.
Many years ago, I remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I’d work beyond my sixtieth birthday. Well, clearly, that didn’t happen.
Moira retired at the end of March 2010. I was really impressed (and a little envious) with the way she prepared for this next stage in her life. She met with our good friend Bruce a couple of times to exchange thoughts and also booked herself on to a retreat in Devon (on the edge of Dartmoor… a place she’s been to before).
By comparison, I feel totally unprepared. People who are aware of my impending retirement frequently ask me what I plan to do… and my answers are always very vague and invariably dull. Whilst a huge part of me is really looking forward to the imminent prospect of retirement, deep down, I also freely admit to feeling rather nervous.
So, over the coming weeks, I might commit some of my “retirement thoughts” to paper (well, computer) – hopes, dreams and fears!
Don’t hold your breathe.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the birds are back….

Last January, we noticed a batch of strange birds at the back of our house. After investigation, we decided they were Fieldfare. Well, they’re back… and perching on the same tree. According to the RSPB, Fieldfare “may come into gardens in severe winters when snow covers the countryside”.
Sounds about right to me!
Photo: some of our Fieldfare visitors (there were some 18 in all).

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The Tobacco Factory Theatre's Christmas Show has now become a traditional part of our seasonal festivities (quite possibly something to do with the fact that Felix has performed in a lot of them perhaps?). Moira+I went along to see "The Adventures of Pinocchio" last night and it proved to be another evening of captivating, live theatre in front of another all-age full house. Once again (of course!), we felt that Felix was the real star performer, especially with his Jimmy The Cricketer character - an intriguingly clever version of Disney's invented Jiminy Cricket.
Theatre is alive and well and, very fortunately for us, can be found at the wonderful Tobacco Factory Theatre - especially at this time of year (the current show runs to 16 January)!
Photo: the cast (Felix is second from right - pity there isn't an image of him in his Jimmy The Cricketer costume!).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

pre-christmas family get-together…. almost

As you can imagine with three married daughters and with their various other family commitments and complicated schedules, the opportunities for us all to get together at Christmas are relatively rare. Yesterday was due to be one of those key occasions – it might not coincide with the “proper” Christmas holiday period but, for us, it was going to be very special. Alice+Dave etc were due to come to stay for a couple of days but, unfortunately, due to the horrendous weather conditions that have disrupted so many people’s holiday plans, they were forced to abandon their attempts to drive down from Lancashire in the snow and ice (the prospect of being “trapped” in traffic with young children for hours on end were rightly considered untenable). As you might imagine, we were (and still are) left feeling very sad by how things turned out. Despite this, we decided to continue with our family supper arrangements last night (it was Felix’s night off from performing at the Tobacco Factory Theatre and Stu managed to get back safely from a crucial glass installation meeting in London – albeit he missed the main course, poor man!) and it WAS lovely.
We count our blessings as a family… and Alice+Dave were definitely with us in spirit last night – just very sad that they weren’t actually there to hug!
Photo: Iris attempting to catch snowflakes on her tongue earlier in the day.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

university education.... again

With all the recent student demonstrations regarding university fees and the like, I’ve perhaps been strangely quiet on the subject. I did write a facebook status note on the morning of the parliamentary vote – acknowledging that I would never have pursued an architectural career if I hadn’t received a full grant (and no tuition fees) and that I feared tomorrow’s architects would once again only come from privileged backgrounds. I have, however, previously voiced my concerns on the subject of university education and tuition fees – for example, November 2010 and November 2006. Polly Toynbee has written some brilliant, thought-provoking, education-related articles in the weekend Guardian over recent weeks (eg. this one on students’ EMAs).
There was an article in yesterday’s Guardian Money supplement entitled: “Would you have paid £27,000 for your degree?” which included interviews with various “writers and celebrities”.
AL Kennedy (novelist and comedian, who studied at Warwick) said:
“I couldn’t have gone to university if I had had to pay anything, or go into debt. I wouldn’t be doing my job, paying tax. I wouldn’t have a life to enjoy… I’d say to students, keep protesting… if I’d done more when I was a student, you wouldn’t have to be doing this. For which I apologise”.
On the other hand, Dan Snow (television+radio historian, who studied at Balliol College, Oxford), having made some sensible comments about the value of a university education, then went on to say:
“I didn’t have to start paying back the £9,000 until I was in a decent job and through my early 20s it meant a few less pints a week, delayed my entry to the housing market by a couple of years and prevented me from buying a nice car. Hardly a sacrifice.”
Something tells me he just doesn’t live in the real world of normal people.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

autumn/winter books...

Once again, I’m using this blog to record books I’ve been reading. These are my latest titles:
The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society (Chris Stewart): The final book in the “Driving Over Lemons” trilogy. I’ve really enjoyed all of them and find Chris Stewart’s writing style very endearing – affectionate, self-deprecating and rather life-enhancing!
Paula Spencer (Roddy Doyle): Probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s about a middle-aged, “recovering alcoholic” mother. It’s quite brilliantly written and captures the despair, struggle, pride, compassion and humour of Paula’s life quite beautifully. I was also fascinated and won over by its somewhat quirky writing style – written in the third person, through the eyes of the central character (as it were!) and with no chapters at all. I absolutely loved it!
Deaf Sentence (David Lodge): I’ve read a number of Lodge’s books (albeit some time ago) and have always enjoyed them as relatively light, amusing novels. After looking at the sleeve notes, I hadn’t really got particularly high hopes for the book – it’s about a retired professor who is going deaf. In the event, I found it quite moving (and funny) as it dealt with some of the things that Moira and I are experiencing first hand for ourselves – the prospect and reality of retirement; our own “failing” faculties; and dealing with old age (well, older age at least!). A surprising gem of a book.
Scoop (Evelyn Waugh): Inevitably dated (first published in 1938!), but I found this irreverent satire of Fleet Street quite charming in its way (as I have many of his other books). This might seem somewhat surprising to many who know me - given Waugh’s reactionary character and his negative image as “intolerant, snobbish and sadistic, with pronounced fascist leanings”. I would clearly have disliked him with a passion!
God of Surprises (Gerard Hughes): We’re reading this book in our weekly Ithaca group and, I have to say, I’ve been rather disappointed. Perhaps I’m not in the proper frame of mind to appreciate it fully at the moment - but, although it does contain some profound and helpful insights, I don’t any of us in the group have particularly warmed to it.
PS: I haven’t included Cave Refectory Road (Ian Adams) in the above recent list as I blogged about this last month (and it’s excellent!).

Monday, December 13, 2010

christmas is coming...

By the end of the weekend, I’d started to feel a little Christmassy. It was clearly helped by getting together with friends on Saturday and exchanging Christmas gifts and also going along to Simon Taylor’s excellent “Christmas in an Hour” lecture at St Mary Redcliffe earlier in the week. However, what really did it for me was attending the Gasworks Choir wonderful concert at St George’s, Bristol yesterday afternoon. Really beautiful, powerful voices, impressive musical arrangements and fun – an absolute treat of a concert…. and our lovely friend Gareth was performing too (see circled in photograph!).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BABs luncheon in bristol

When we all lived in Oxfordshire, Moira+I used to get together for lunch on a regular basis with our lovely, lovely friends Gail, Ian, Debby+Ken (six times a year – to celebrate each of our birthdays)(note: BABs is short for Barnes-Adams-Broadway!). Now that we’re living in different parts of the country (Oxford, Devon and Bristol), we still try to get together as often as we can but, inevitably, it’s not as often as we’d like. Yesterday, G+I+D+K came to Bristol and we met up for a really excellent lunch at Bordeaux Quay…. wonderful to catch up again… lots to talk about… much laughter, as usual!
Photo: "atmospheric" Ian, Moira+Gail (sorry Gail!) on Pero’s Bridge after we’d said our goodbyes to Ken+Debby.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


The Mabey-Broadway bus passengers (well, it was just Andy and me!) witnessed a very rare sight on our homeward journey yesterday – a meteor! It was about 5.40pm and we were driving through the fairly well-lit streets of Knowle West when we suddenly caught sight of an amazingly bright rocket-like “thing” travelling across the sky. We both reacted in the same way: “wow, did you see THAT?”…. Initially, I thought it was a huge firework, but soon realised it was something much more impressive than that. We followed it for about three or four seconds before it disappeared from view. I’ve previously seen shooting stars but never witnessed anything quite so dramatic (in astronomical terms, you understand). Andy is the nearest I know to anyone remotely connected with astro-physics and he told me this morning that it was indeed a meteor (he tells me that the local tv presenter-cum-weatherman kept calling it a meteorite – which rather annoyed Andy, because it only becomes a meteorite if it survives impact with the earth’s surface… which it clearly hadn’t when we saw it!).
Anyway, it was a first for me!
Photo: unfortunately, I didn't take a photograph myself but this is the closest I've seen amongst google images to what we witnessed (but without such a long tail).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

forest of dean 2010

We’ve just returned from the annual 3-day school trip to the Forest of Dean. This is a picture of one of the Year 8 pupils after she’d reached the top of the high climbing wall. Exhilaration, pride, sense of achievement and sheer joy. I could have chosen any one of numerous other images which would have told the same story. The Jacob’s Ladder, the Zip Wire, the Leap of Faith (climbing up a telegraph pole, standing on what amounts to no more than a tea tray and then flinging oneself into mid air to catch a swinging bar!), the Climbing Wall and, of course, the night walks/challenges in the forest (where, although closely and secretly monitored, these young children find their own way through the forest in the dead of night).
Witnessing children being prepared to undertake onerous challenges, being cheered on and genuinely encouraged by their fellow students, massively exceeding their own expectations and watching their delighted faces at the end… there’s nothing really to match it.
It’s humbling and a huge privilege to be able to do so.
I just wish parents (especially some of them!) were able to see just what their sons and daughters are capable of achieving – it would make them very proud (and amazed).